In response to user outrage at discovering their personal data was being mined by outside companies, Facebook has reversed course in its policy of freely sharing social media data. Facebook first opened itself up to mining by academic and commercial ventures in 2007, by proclaiming that the “social graph” would be wide open, allowing access to “friends” lists, interests and “likes” of users.
Marketers, researchers and entrepreneurs alike took advantage of the generous invitation and rushed in to mine what has become one of the world’s greatest sources of information on human relationships. Apps like Tinder and Reveal were influenced heavily by the data available from Facebook at the time of their development, but apps that are following in their footsteps won’t be so lucky.
Facebook Stands Up for User Privacy
In a move that’s being hailed simultaneously as a step in the right direction for privacy and a tight-fisted move by another data-controlling corporation, Facebook now requires special access for companies and researchers looking to mine their social graph. Although Facebook is simply following a trend started by other social networks like LinkedIn and Twitter, limiting data access created a huge wave in the media.
Despite all the doom and gloom, Facebook isn’t looking to completely restrict mining operations. Instead, they’re developing protocol for companies who wish to mine data so that it’s done in a way that protects individual user data while still producing meaningful results. Developers continue to be given free access to data that includes users’ full names, location, profile photos, gender, age range and friends who are also using the app, but now only have limited access to photos, birthdays, education histories, work histories, hometowns, relationship statuses, religious and political affiliations, complete lists of Facebook friends and “likes.”
Although that limited data isn’t automatically available to anyone who wants it, it can be obtained if a marketer, researcher or developer has a good reason for needing it. Facebook is granting access on a case-by-case basis. Restrictions to this data gold mine may require marketers to think harder about their audiences, but shouldn’t rock the marketing world as badly as the uproar would imply.